Autistic Burnout from the Inside

It’s more than just “burnout,” it’s neurological incapacitation.

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As the name of this study suggests, autistic burnout is like “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew” (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Imagine that trying to enjoy the world outside of your tiny studio apartment (even your precious patio) involved a very high chance of your brain becoming overwhelmed to the point of malfunction; the sounds, brightness, unpredictability — all threats that could potentially result in meltdowns and a repeat of seizures, which you find terrifying.

Every time you verbally communicate there’s a ~50% percent chance of the words coming out wrong, and/or with tears. Even text-communication is often overwhelming. Basic executive functioning tasks, like routine cooking, become immensely challenging. Generally, you have all the energy of a sloth.

You are in autistic burnout.

And you’ve been in and out of it for six months.

Then you have a precious good brain day. It aligns, not surprisingly, with a good health day — you also have fibromyalgia, which is common in autistic women. It’s the winter solstice, so you take your emotional support dog to a nearby lagoon for some nature time.

Yes, it was only 15 minutes on the way to pick up your grocery order, and yes getting some sun did make your skin itch in a strange electric way — but it was a beautiful walk, so so very worth it.

You saw light dancing on water, herons perched on floating Christmas-tree structures, discovered your newly-adopted dog (Foxy) hates dust but has the cutest sneezes in the world, and watched her make a little girl’s day as they said hello, both all wiggly and excited at life.

After you put your groceries away at home, you’re amped to find that you still have some energy and cognitive function left to work — so you sit down to write, delighted at the sound of your own hands quickly tapping away at your keyboard.

But then a far more unpleasant noise starts, yet again.

At first, it’s just some music down the street, you hope it’s a passing car. But instead, it gets louder. The words on your computer screen begin to scramble in your head, you can no longer sort out their meanings, let alone write more of them.

The music gets even louder.

You shut your door and tiny window, so now there’s less noise but almost no natural light. It’s hard to decide if that’s more of a sensory relief or depressing factor. You turn on a lamp and your stimmy mind-happy-making music, try to focus. But it gets even louder. You give up on work and turn to streaming televised art to calm you down and drown it out.

But their music is louder than your TV. In your apartment. With the window and door shut.

That’s it.

Your brain is threatening to go white again, feeling like it could explode, waves seeming to pass through your vision— you know you can’t keep living like this. Literally. Cannot.

You head outside and find a car parked sideways in the road (blocking access to the street), with a nearby scooter playing music so loud you feel your teeth vibrate from 100 feet away.

There are 3 or 4 men standing around the car, their bodies postured in an intimidating manner. Bystanders stare at them, seemingly irritated but not saying anything. Your mind tries to tell you confronting them might not be safe, but you can hardly hear your own thoughts, fuck you can hardly think them — so this just causes more anger.

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Getting confused by Buffy in the dark when all I want to do is go on my sunny patio and write/work; it might look like a relaxing day, but it’s intensely depressing, stressful, and creates hopelessness where income needs to be. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

As you pass the blaring speaker, you lose control of your body and it squirms uncontrollably, which gets the men’s attention. You ask them to please turn it down, saying you can’t work; but they can’t hear you over the noise. You try again, your voice cracking, your hands shaking. They turn it down a bit. You walk to the end of the street, turn the corner so they can’t see you, then stop to try and get yourself together.

They fucking turn it back up.

You’ve lost it. You feel your eyes going steely and realize you’re already beelining towards the man who answered for everyone, your voice is saying things, you’re not even sure what.

He just smiles, even lets out a small laugh.

The man turns it down again, then stares at you, arms crossed, chest out. Your response is squeaky and shaky, trying to explain autism and sensory processing and meltdowns and how this loudness is stealing your life.

Which is what always happens when you get like this.

They quietly laugh. And smile at you like, “you strange silly thing,” then deny having done so if you manage to call them on it.

And every single time, it makes you want to give up entirely. Literally.

Your whole body starts shaking uncontrollably, you realize there are like 10 people now staring at you now (your neighbors!), and you can’t really understand what their faces are saying. (Fear? Pity?) You walk away, unable to hide the stimming and shaking, but holding your tears in until you collapse in your apartment.

Then you do your best to shake it off, knowing letting yourself spin-out would result in a full meltdown. (They are the same in adults. They are a complete loss of control, and they are horrifying.) Luckily, you’re very practiced at pretending you don’t feel like your whole world is on fire.

You stim it out, reflect on all the good points of your (comparably good) day, then use the adrenaline from the incident and your inability to recognize your emotions for the good — managing to have a relatively nice mellow little Yule evening.

Of course, the next day you’re useless, recovering. Your work can’t get done. The vegetables don’t even get chopped, which is fine because you’re too nauseous to eat them. You feel worthless, like the dirt on the bottom of that quietly laughing man’s boots.

But the day after that you wrote this, anyway.

You know your immense strength. You know your whys. You have your passion and drive. You know how to appreciate the good, and you have the will to fixate on it.

So you just keep on keepin’ on.

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My dearest Foxy helping me get to wherever the heck I’m going. We just adopted each other on 12/12/20, but she’s already helped with meltdowns and lifting spirits SO. MUCH. Emotional support dogs are saviors. ❤🙏
(Photo courtesy of the author.)

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